St Paul’s Cathedral

Sitting on one of the highest elevation points in London even as it rises almost 400 feet in the air itself, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a major historic landmark and a powerful symbol of this world-class city. St. Paul’s grand dome has dominated the London skyline for over 300 years now, hosting in its time countless weddings, funerals, and major national celebrations. Its heavily ornamented interior is open for tours on a regular basis, and makes for a powerful place to visit.

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London, St Paul’s Cathedral

History of St. Paul’s Cathedral

A church consecrated in the name of the apostle Paul has stood in the heart of London since the year 604, when Pope Gregory sent missionaries from Rome to convert Anglo-Saxon pagans to Christianity. Though no record of its exact location survives, history has it that this structure stood until 1087, when it was destroyed in a fire. Work began on building another St. Paul’s shortly thereafter, though this replacement structure wasn’t complete until the early fourteenth century. In 1666, it too was burnt to the ground during the so-called Great Fire of London.

Sir Christopher Wren was put in charge of designing a new St. Paul’s from scratch, and that construction process would take the better part of the next half-century. Services were first held in Wren’s redesigned cathedral in 1697, even though the final stones weren’t actually laid on site until 1708. The cathedral itself wasn’t declared complete until 1711. In the 300 years since, St. Paul’s Cathedral has become one of London’s great landmarks, hosting royal weddings, state funerals, and many other culturally significant events.

St Paul Cathedral, London, UK

St. Paul’s Cathedral Theatre Highlights

For over 250 years, St. Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in all of London, and it still stands today as the second-largest cathedral in England. Several features of Wren’s design are of particular note. The cathedral’s dome rises 365 feet in the air at its peak, and is said to have been inspired by Michelangelo’s legendary design for St. Peter’s Basilica. The interior of the dome is ornately decorated by an assortment of windows, statue-bearing niches, and paintings depicting the life of St. Paul.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is nearly 600 feet long, of which over two-thirds of the space is taken up by the nave and quire. The cathedral’s nave is flanked by a North Aisle and a South Aisle, off which you’ll encounter a variety of features like the Wellington Monument, a tribute to one of England’s most lauded soldiers; the Chapel of St Michael and St George, where numerous ceremonial services take place throughout the year; and the Font, used in baptisms held here for centuries.

Some things of note to look out for at the eastern end of the cathedral’s interior are the American Memorial Chapel, which honors the approximately 30,000 Americans who died in England during World War II; the stately, marble-and-gilded-oak High Altar; and the funeral effigy of the poet John Donne. Donne became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621, and his statue is considered the only memorial to have escaped destruction during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

More to See and Do at St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an essential stop on any London visitor’s itinerary. Here are a few more things to keep in mind as you plan your trip.

•There are numerous guided tours of St. Paul’s Cathedral available, including some that are as brief as 20 minutes in duration. Many attraction passes will also grant holders access to a complimentary audio guide.

•St. Paul’s Cathedral is home to over 500 “monuments”—defined here as a memorial to a deceased individual. From small markers to large statues, these monuments tell the story of many of England’s most important politicians, military figures, artists, writers, and more.

•St. Paul’s features four different organs, none more famous than its acclaimed Grand Organ. Though the Grand Organ has been modified multiple times over the centuries, the core of the instrument dates to 1694. It’s worth noting as you tour St. Paul’s—or, if you’re interested, free organ recitals are held here each Sunday.

•The Geometric Staircase is a favorite St. Paul’s Cathedral attraction—notable both for its elegant design and prominent appearance in the Harry Potter movies.

Why St. Paul’s Cathedral Should Be on Your Must-See List

St. Paul’s Cathedral has seen prime ministers buried, princes and princesses married, and even survived nightly bombing raids during the Blitz of World War II. It’s an architectural marvel that has been a core part of the identity of London and England itself for centuries now. Whether observed from the outside or enjoyed from the inside, St. Paul’s Cathedral is full of remarkable design details and decorative flourishes. This iconic destination is absolutely well worth your time.